Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Love Never Dies

Aftermath/Genesis is a DVD release featuring three short films by director Nacho Cerda. Although technically spanish language, none of the films have any dialogue, so the there is no language barrier.

The first film (not included in the title), The Awakening, is a student film Nacho shot while enrolled in Southern California. The plot is very similar to the well-known Carnival of Souls. It isn't bad for a school project, I've seen better, I've seen worse. It serves the purpose of introducing Cerda's questions about death and  illustrates a concept about the actual moment of death. The most notorious segment, the middle film on the disc deals with what comes after.

Cerda indicates in the supplements that one of his great personal horrors is the fear of what might happen to his body after he has died. His fears were not helped when he observed a series of autopsies in person. I don't think fear of what is done with our earthly matter is universal, but I think just about everyone would prefer NOT to consider it too much... even if there's nothing more to it than lying in the earth decomposing.

In Aftermath, Cerda posits nearly the worst possible thing that could happen to your corpse if the circumstances of your death require an autopsy. At thirty minutes long, the autopsy process is about the only thing covered in the movie, but that span is more than adequate.

One can go on the web and find out more details about this film than I care to elaborate right now. The film is shot very well, the sounds are clear (and all the more disturbing for that) and as I said above, there is no dialogue. The music is mostly archived Mozart but effectively chosen. I was very prepared to be disturbed by this film. I'd avoided almost all direct plot references, but one cannot really read anything about the film without at least catching the phrase 'unspeakable atrocities on corpes' or somesuch. So y'know, expecting the worst.

In reality, what the film presents IS horrible and IS disturbing. The lead actor has a really hard time with one particular scene, as shown in the extras, and I can't imagine it wouldn't be scarring. BUT. I had one issue that really kept me from being overwhelmed like so many other viewers. I couldn't believe in the effects.

When you are a genre film buff, one aspect of viewing and enjoying is cultivating an appreciation for conventions, technology, and trends at the time of a film's production. There's a synonymous requirement in cultivating taste in any artform. You don't expect a piece of gothic fiction written in the 1800s or SF from the 50s to be written appealing to modern tastes. Artists today don't emulate medieval church paintings, yet many modern art mavens still find the old works beautiful. You have to place the work, whatever it is, in the context of its time.

In the case of horror films, what scared 'back in the day' may not be scary now. Effects makeup that shocked or looked realistic decades ago may be comical to a modern viewer. But when you watch an older horror film, you may have to substitute admiration for what was achieved for the original intentions of the filmmakers.

The problem for me with Aftermath is that the subject matter requires extensive viewing and interaction with fake corpses, and I didn't find the bodies believable. I have an appreciation for what was accomplished when the film was made in 1994. Considering the budget and tech available it is pretty good. But unlike a lot of horror films where the effect is a brief killing or a short view of a monster, the effects are on display constantly. The doctors performing the autopsies are continually working with them. The subject matter is horrifying, but the immersion in it was really incomplete for me. I have a huge tolerance for bad makeup effects. These makeup effects are not literally bad, they just aren't credible ENOUGH given how much onscreen time they occupy. I couldn't just say 'pretty good for the day' and move on to the next scene. Or overlook a deficiency because it is quickly past. The bodies are always there. Being cut, sawn, moved, etc.  Now I don't have enough experience with dead bodies to really say how accurate the film is with these depictions. For all I know, accident victims change after death EXACTLY as in the film. But I was just too aware 'dummies' the whole time.

The third film on the disc, Genesis, was much more successful to me. Again, extensive prostheses and makeup effects are used, but this time they document transformations further removed from reality and so they feel, to me, more successful.

Genesis is also a thirty minute short. The story of a sculptor who lost his wife in a car accident, and is trying to capture her essence in a tribute statue to her. He succeeds all to well. I liked this film a great deal though there are no real surprises in the narrative. Anyone who has seen the Guinea Pig segment Mermaid In A Manhole, knows more-or-less what to expect here. But the care and professionalism shown in this film go quite a bit beyond just about any horror short I can remember. Ironically, Aftermath would be a runner-up... also really well shot and staged. Genesis is bleak, but not thoroughly disgusting like Aftermath. And to me, much more believable, in the immersion sense, despite the more fantastic nature of the plot.

Only Genesis really bears repeat viewings, but you can watch Aftermath just to say you got through it, if you dare. Enh, I may have just ruined the experience now that I've got you looking really closely at the corpses.

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